FRENCH OPEN: The Ghost of Bjorn Borg Returns to Paris

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

The ghost of Bjorn Borg returned to Roland Garros. After all, as Ben Rothenberg noted, just as American Bjorn Fratangelo went onto Courte Suzanne Lenglen, Frenchman Mathias Bourque emerged onto Phillipe Chatrier Stadium to take on Andy Murray. So we had Bjorn and Bourgue both on court at the same time – go figure.

But surely, in the center court match, it would be a hopeless task for Bourgue. After all, the 22-year old Bourgue was hardly the reincarnation of Bjorn Borg, the Swede whose long hair flowed and backhand punished as he won six French Opens. Rather this was Mathias Bourgue. “Mathias who?”, you might well ask.

Well, Bourgue had never played an ATP match before this year’s Roland Garros. He had won just one minor French title and got into the tournament on a wild card, but who noticed except his fans in his hometown of Avignon where, centuries ago, the Pope used to live. And certainly the little-known Bourgue, who is just the 16th best player in France, would need some hefty divine intervention to have any hope against the second-best player in the world.

After all, it’s said that once a top player survives a scare match early in a tournament, he will settle in and proceed nicely. It’s also presumed that once a top player is up a set and a break of serve he will go on and win with some ease. Well, Andy Murray survived a two-day, five-set scare marathon against Czech Radek Stepenek and came out today and was all business as he sprinted to a 6-2, 2-0 lead. Now, one thought, he would be able to cruise.

Young Bourgue, 22, had other ideas. He told himself Andy’s “not playing that fast. I should play more like him.” Good pep talk, Mathias. He soon unleashed his whippy forehand, hit one deft drop shot after another, and like a late-night conversation at a Left Bank cafe, turned everything around in a flash. Never mind that he was ranked No. 164, Bourgue took advantage of Murray’s modest serves and lack of rhythm and gave the suddenly enthralled crowd a sampling of inspirational French tennis at its creative best. Like Borg – his quasi-namesake – the Frenchman began to run like the wind. He dictated play. Murray had no answers. “He started to play incredibly,” Andy conceded later. “I was struggling to win points, not games. It was a fantastic turnaround…I was losing a lot of games at love…I couldn’t see where his shots were going. It doesn’t happen that often where you are struggling to win points. I couldn’t find the court. I was missing balls.” Bourgue captured the second and third set to go up 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.

But again, Murray showed us his Scottish ferocity that so often turns the wind around. So we saw clenched fists, more aggressive play and his battle-tested will. He began to grind and shouted, “Allez, c’mon!”

Murray’s punches were more of a consistent flurry than a knock-out blow. He took out his foe’s legs out with deep, corner-to-corner backhands. Bourgue’s brilliance faded as he revealed he was a newbie. He shot selection was often suspect. Murray won the fourth set and broke twice in the fifth.

To his credit the Frenchman didn’t fold. He rallied late in the fifth set. The crowded roared, but Murray prevailed 6-2,2-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

We have seen Bjorn Borg. We know Bjorn Borg. We have covered Bjorn Borg, and Mathias Bourge is no Bjorn Borg. But in the end, he has a promising future. Certainly Murray has seen enough of him. He all but muttered to the press, “I’ve shown a lot of heart the last couple of days…It’s been a tough couple of days.”

No kidding.

ITF CALLS FOR TRANSPARENCY ON DRUGS, BUT…: American Varvara Lepchenko, the world No. 64, was asked eight times in her Tuesday press conference whether she tested positive for meldonium and then served a silent ban earlier this season.

“Goodness knows what is going through his head right now. Let’s hope for him it’s as little as possible.” – Radio Roland Garros on the zoning Mathias Bourge
“This could be one of the great wins of my career, or it could not be.” – Andy Murray on his win over Radek Stepanek
“We argue a lot, but she is really smart when it comes to tennis. I never listen to her, but I do when it comes to tennis.” – Heather Watson, who lost today, on her mom, who is her part-time coach.
“Today I was a bit too stressed, that’s why my arm was blocked.” – Simona Halep who struggled before she won
“You go through the greatest high of your sporting life and then things go to pieces right away.” – Gigi Salmon on Angelique Kerber winning the Aussie Open and then losing in the first round of her next Slam.

YES FOLKS IT’S TRUE: Andy Murray offered a loud shout of frustration after he lost the very first point of his second-round match…Christopher Clarey reminded us that Indian Wells owner Larry Ellison is “a man with pockets deeper than the Mariana Trench.”

ISNER – NO, NOT THAT ONE – IS RUNNING FOR CONGRESS: John Isner’s father Bob, a moderate Democrat, is running for Congress against four or five others in North Carolina. John is a Florida resident so he won’t be able to vote for his dad, but he told IT, with some pride, that he has donated to the campaign. He explained that his father “never was in politics before, [but] he owned a small business for 25, 30 years…[and] knows what it is like to run a small business.” Isner’s dad says he’s for renewable clean energy and a path to citizenship for immigrants. He backs Obamacare but insists costs need to be controlled.

GO FIGURE: The most feared doubles team in the world – Serena and Venus Williams – are unseeded.

HAIR WE ARE: Has there ever been a match with a greater contrast in hairstyles than today’s between Omaha-bred Jack Sock, with his stylized short cut, and German Dustin Brown with his long waist-length reggae-inspired dreadlocks? BTW: Sock and Brown met in both singles and doubles today.

BEST SINGLE COMMENT ON A PAIRE: When reflecting on France’s often inconsistent Benoit Paire, broadcaster Courtney Nguyen said, “You never know which Paire you are going to get – the delicious Bartlett one or that brown one which is over there sitting on the shelf.”

JUST WONDERING: Who has a tougher name to pronounce: France’s Tessah Andrianjafitrimo or Turkey’s Cagia Buyukakcay…Who is the tennis player who best uses his legs – Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic

HIS COMEBACKS HAVE COMEBACKS: Vika Azarenka has had a string of injuries. But her ill-fortune is nothing compared to that of Brian Baker, who has had double-digit surgeries. In fact, his comebacks have comebacks.

THE ANTI-KYRGIOS?: Is Britain’s soft-spoken Heather Watson the sweetest tennis player in the top 60?

A MASTER STALLER: Radek Stepanek takes out his contact lens. Radek Stepenek licks his contact lens. Radek Stepenek takes a bathroom break. Radek Stepanek changes his shirt. The crowd finally boos. Radek Stepanek runs out of ways to run out the clock.